Consumers

Food and drink products are a fundamental part of the daily lives of Europe’s 500 million citizens, providing nutrition, health, well-being and enjoyment.

 

As such, consumers are at the heart of how the food industry operates, in responding to ever-evolving consumer demand and lifestyles (pack sizes, smart packaging to preserve food for longer, etc.).  Nonetheless, consumers generate significant direct environmental impacts in the way they transport, store, prepare and dispose of food and there is a need for scientifically-reliable and harmonised analyses setting out where improvements in the food chain, including at the household stage, can be made.

Progress

A key achievement of the European food and drink industry is the development of a harmonised assessment methodology for the environmental impact of food and drink products, the Food and Drink Environmental Assessment Protocol. This Protocol is a key deliverable of the European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Round Table and has been developed in collaboration with the European Commission and food chain partners, NGOs, academia and national experts. The Round Table has also developed recommendations on the use of tools for communicating environmental information, including to the consumer. The Recommendations highlight good practice and key tools that may be used to communicate environmental information, while recognising that to do so effectively, requires the use of a multi-pronged approach.


Moreover, many food companies already provide voluntary information to consumers about the environmental performance of their products through various communication channels.

Opportunities

  • Food and drink companies have already made significant progress in product design in order to help consumers reducing their adverse environmental impacts. Some of the examples:
  • Fully utilise the product – Improved packaging design that allows consumers to fully use the product inside (e.g. non-stick sauce bottles), reducing the amount of food thrown away unused.
  • Portion benchmarks on packs that contain multiple portions help consumers estimate how much they need to cook and adjusted portion sizes that help to avoid food waste.
  • Smartphone applications that help consumers plan and order groceries.
  • Keep what you buy at its best – Packaging is optimised to prevent food waste from spoilage during transportation, distribution and home storage, thereby extending its shelf life.  In addition, on-pack messages offer advice on how to store leftovers (e.g. freezing tips).

 

Key achievements are as follows:

  • 10 Guiding Principles on voluntary environmental assessment and communication of environmental information along the food chain, including to consumers – The Guiding Principles aim to promote a coherent way to assess and communicate voluntarily the environmental performance of food and drink products. The Guiding Principles, like the Round Table, emphasise a life-cycle approach. The lead principle states that environmental information communicated along the food chain, including to consumers, shall be scientifically reliable and consistent, understandable and not misleading, so as to support informed choice.   
  • The Food and Drink Environmental Assessment Protocol (Envifood Protocol) – The European Food SCP Round Table set out to establish the Envifood Protocol in response to the need for a harmonised approach to the environmental assessment of food and drink products to facilitate the voluntary communication of environmental information along the food chain including to the consumer. The Envifood Protocol is undergoing testing and public consultation in 2012 and a final version is expected by the end of 2012.  
  • Report on communicating environmental performance along the food chain – The Round Table has identified suitable tools and good practices for voluntarily communicating the environmental performance of food and drink products along the food chain. The Round Table assessed the strengths and challenges of available communication methods and tools, including where the information is communicated (e.g. on-pack, on shelf, barcodes). Based on this analysis, the Round Table makes recommendations on the kinds of information tools that should be used to promote food and drink products with an improved environmental performance, such as third-party certification schemes.  
  • Report on continuous environmental improvement – This report identifies and prioritises major environmental challenges along the various stages of the food and drink chain, including consumption. It also identifies priority areas for continuous environmental improvement, considering the respective responsibilities of the various players along the food value chain. Finally, it identifies priority areas for targeted sustainability R&D and eco-innovation areas. This report is expected to be published by the end of 2012.  
  • Report on non-environmental aspects of sustainability – This report provides a priority list of economic and social aspects of sustainability relevant to the food supply chain that the other working groups should take into consideration during the development of their deliverables. 

The Round Table also provides a platform for the food chain and Commission to address food waste at all stages of the food chain.
Moreover, to ensure global alignment, the Round Table has been working together with ongoing initiatives outside of Europe, such as The Sustainability Consortium. The Round Table proactively seeks to involve those who were not directly involved in this work by inviting stakeholders to participate in public consultations on its deliverables.
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